Thursday, 29 April 2010


Youth is a sweeping-statement
After sweeping-statement mistake.

Promises are powerless,
Futures, absurd.

A sleeplessness made me
Forget you.


Often times I pull at the memory of you
And rope up buckets of ocean water.

I am the sand archived in your holiday-read,
I am a fireplace in the commonplace of your summer.
I am the sand in the dining room, backseat of the car, mother's toes,
I am unbent heat, kissed.

Beg for this,

Must I?

If this world is a brief ugliness,
I want to stretch out, fuck, fall.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Classic Review: Mifune's Last Song (Mifune Sidste Sang) (1999)

* * * * *

Dir. Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, 1999.

Lars Von Trier’s and Thomas Vinterberg’s Danish, draconian movement, Dogme, challenged fellow filmmakers to shoot lo-fi, gimmick-refuting movies. The first two, Festen and Idioterne, remain the genre’s best-known examples. But the third in the series, Mifune’s Last Song, became as renowned for the director’s post-production confession as for its beautiful content – Kragh-Jacobsen was open about breaking several Dogme vows. The narrative is defined by a screen-swallowing pathos. Kristen, raised on a farm, is now urbanized, miserly and married. But his father has just died, and his handicapped brother, Rud, and their farm need looking after. He must return to, and salvage, his roots then, leaving behind an obstinate wife. Enter Liva (Isbene Hjejle: Laura from High Fidelity), a valiant prostitute turned housekeeper, determined to escape her past. She will find solace in Rud’s innocent affection and in Kristen’s emerging humility. Angry, funny and profound, Mifune’s Last Song was one of the ten-bestselling Danish movies worldwide. Astonishing then that it has become celluloid pirate-treasure.

Monday, 26 April 2010

The Ghost (2010)

* * *

(Dir. Roman Polanski, 2010)

There is nothing so clever or incendiary here as to either educate or incense the British public about its former Primer Minister's "war crimes". And whether or not this is the point, the disgrace of Andrew Lang is an allegory perfectly poised but ordinarily executed.

Screenplay collaborators Polanski and Robert Harris have kept mostly faithful to Harris's sensationalist plot of Dan Brown proportions. A grinning, on-edge Pierce Brosnan is Lang, former PM, who believes he is being terrorised by the media and protesters (just for having fought terror). Ewan McGregor has been recruited as his nameless ghost-writer, arriving at Lang's escape-estate on an island, a ferry's ride from New York, to complete his memoirs. The American setting is a cross between Tracy, and Shutter, Island, while London, bookending the action, is surprisingly subtle. There's only a red bus and a black cab for character.

The previous ghost-writer drowned off the coast; it's referred to as either an accident or suicide throughout the movie, but it doesn't take lottery-winning guesswork to see where we're heading. McGregor becomes more than just a ghost-writer in Lang's unhomely household: his sense of curiosity and adventure overcome him. He goes wondering on a bicycle, a ferry and in Lang's BMW (YES, THAT'S A BMW; the logo lingers excruciatingly, until the car is actually given a voice and begins to advertise itself). It isn't the (often necessary) commercial ugliness that turns me off; it's the way product-placement can so often - as it has done with The Ghost - ironise and spoil a movie. For all Pierce Brosnan's Bond exploits, The Ghost is guilty of a more unnatural, ostentatious product-placement than any 007 film. Anyway, why were BMW so keen to advertise in the name of a loathsome politician? As the ghost-writer begins to grow suspicious of his predecessor's death and of Lang and his wife's (Olivia Williams) beginnings in politics, we know that the ghost-writer and the memoirs he has been left to finish will play a critical role.

From the director of Chinatown, this thriller is not untouched by splendor. Polanski plays a noir, CIA card (that old cliche) powerfully, as Tom Wilkinson's hard eyes are drafted in to keep us interested until a foolish denouement I want to, but shan't, spoil. At its pathetic or comic best, the vitriol in this film is quotable. The private response to the angry public, "It was hardly genocide", is a skillful demonstration of Lang's amazing simplicity and the feebleness of his position. When Lang sees a former cabinet-colleague condemning him on television, the former Prime Minister emerges from his sofa with an expletive - "You cheeky fuck!". Meanwhile when a protestor whose son has died "in one of Mr Lang's illegal wars" realises the ghost-writer is working for him, his utterance of the c-word as he walks by the writer's ear has quite the opposite effect to Chloe Monetz's expletive in Kick Ass; this man's anger becomes a reverberating, screen-swallowing chill, perhaps the only in the entire film.

Any attempt at tragedy in The Ghost is emotionally dumb: this story, its product-placement and timid transatlantic topography pander to that thoughtless, seen-it-all-before, thriller-ritual. There is nothing to impress upon the audience other than a fatheaded twist and several bursts of airport-waiting-room page-turning. Essentially - why make The Ghost Writer into a motion picture without either making fun of its sensationalist plot or attempting a more serious political statement? Well, Andrew Lang's talking BMW and the mis-promise of the trailer will answer: $ $ $. It's a fun game in an ethical maze of a playground.

Polanski question is an important afterthought. Here is an inconsistency that must be wrong: in 2006, the British release of an American treasure, Gone Baby Gone, was sensitively postponed because of its subject-matter and the recent abduction of Madeleine McCann. Now here is the convicted rapist of a thirteen-year old profiting from a sensationalist thriller he finished in jail. And yet guilt-edged curiosity demands I go and see this film, by a director who gave the world Chinatown and The Pianist. It's difficult, complicated. More complicated than The Ghost itself.)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The wet-heavy football in the shrubbery all these summers

The wet-heavy football in the shrubbery all these summers
and winters: houses change hands.
There are griefs.
The posters who were never as important after adolescence,
The teachers unloved into legend by time's dictatorship,
The kitten fated for the car,
A rainbow's colours washed out of memory,
The oldness and newness of songs,

What surprise is;
Something to turn us inside out,
And stretch us closer to our first and final breaths,
An adult hand wrapped around a swivel globe,
Pausing motion.
Griefs are there and then here.
A regretted missed call, a to-do list,
Written, but thy will never be done.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The National: Boxer (100-word classic-album review for Uncut)

A record perched above the noughties' indie-narcissism niche, Boxer is a stirring creation. The National’s influences range from Springsteen to Joy Division, and their transatlantic odyssey has not been in vain. Every track is a triumph. Fake Empire opens sincerely, Mistaken For Strangers is endearingly poppy while Slow Show is both pretty and forceful: a pattern emerges of ambitious songs that never condescend to the listener. At his most hopeful, vocalist Berninger daydreams, “Cinderella through the room, I glide and swan / I’m the best slow-dancer in the universe”. However slow or furious, were you dancing before it was all over? The National’s follow-up, High Violet, out May 10th, shoulders great expectations.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Cemetery Junction (2010)

* * *

(Dir. Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais, 2010)

Ricky Gervais' (and Stephen Merchant's) talent for sculpting important, instantly lovable characters is somewhat contaminated by a corny formula. From Tim Canterbury in
The Office, to Andy Millman in Extras, from the protagonists of Ghost Town and The Invention of Lying to Freddie in Cemetery Junction, the comics' identification and obsession with an intrinsically good, thoughtful saviour has become a painstakingly familiar, if successful, scenario. Hence Christian Cooke's outstanding debut in a lead role is damaged in several scenes by the camera's hyperbolic attention to his contemplative, sad eyes. OK, we get it: you're an ambitious, likable young man trapped in a humdrum town; this town will drag you down. It's this Smithsy angst and alienation that has inspired the very best in Gervais and Merchant, and at the same time has stopped them from creating anything emphatically new for ten years.

Cooke is Freddie, one of three young men seeking a way out of their deprived, depraved community, Cemetery Junction, before it's too late. Testosterone-pumped rebel, Bruce (Tom Hughes) and laughable-loser, Snork, are Freddie's loyal, carefree friends. Freddie lives with his mum, dad and nan and has decided to work for mercenary executive, Mr Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes), selling life insurance to gullible victims, instead of following in his working-class family's footsteps. Meanwhile Bruce lives with his alcoholic and passive father in permanent discord. Police-officer, Steve Speirs, immediately recognisable as the Welsh, bald divorcee from
Extras, is doing his best to save their relationship, and to keep the young, likely lads out of trouble. He and Emily Watson, as Mrs Kendrick, steal a film with performances of inestimable gravity.

We already know who Freddie is from the comedic sequences distinguishing our modern hero from his past-tense family and friends. He's a cosmopolitan but pretentious breath of fresh air in a stale, age-old-racist home, seeking to make "more" of his life than his father has done. For there is something positively Pip and
Great Expectations about Freddie and Cemetery Junction that works. Freddie's benign, common, factory-laboring dad (Gervais) is a redrafted Joe the blacksmith, while Fiennes plays the anti-gentleman, Pumblechook-type, whose status and money Freddie aspires toward. But Freddie will soon learn that there's more to being a good man than pursuing office space and fancy cars. Yawn.

Roman Polanski's new thriller,
The Ghost, released in the same week, was reviewed by Phillip French in yesterday's Observer. On Polanski, French cited the director's skill in making the audience "suspicious of the kindness of strangers". All too often in Gervais and Merchant, characters are black-and-white, good-or-bad, and we have little evidence to ever doubt our first impressions. The only discomfort in Cemetery Junction is in the superb squirming-humour set pieces - the ones where we're not sure whether to laugh or cry. To thank an old, retiring worker for his life-long service to the company, Mr Kendrick offers him a cut-glass fruit-bowl, and makes several mistakes in an insincere thank-you-speech (at the same event, Stephen Merchant and Matthew Holness cameo jocosely). Fiennes' speech is outawkwarded by a meeting we have been anticipating throughout; when the two different worlds of Reading collide, and the haughty Fiennes is introduced to Freddie's mates - experts in farting, swearing, fighting, graffiting, and in acquiring tattoos of naked vampire-women and concomitant erections.

As the film enters its final phase, an uplifting scene of pretty young people laughing and dancing their way around a nightclub is spoiled when Bruce punches someone for racially abusing an ironically token black girl. I'm not sure what Gervais and Merchant are trying to say by writing this episode into the film. That racism is wrong? Worse still, it's an episode that bears more of a plot function than a moral statement, getting Bruce back into prison so he can learn from his mistakes. Like the misrepresentation of insurance-salesmanship as something wholly evil, the theme of racism is unnecessarily and crudely dragged into
Cemetery Junction. It is another example of how the directors are at their best making comedy out of suffering, and not the other way around.

Whatever the gaping holes in this otherwise impressive armour of sparkling romance and (literally) cold metal of class-divide, Gervais and Merchant have created another story and batch of characters to fall in love with, or at least, to feel as if we know them personally. Their ability to graft a retrospectively feminist sub-plot is responsible for much of the movie's power. Like Dawn Tinsley, the artistic Julie is stuck, seemingly bereft of free will, with her one-dimensional tosser of a boyfriend. She is a mirror-image of her mother - the frighteningly versatile Emily Watson (
Red Dragon, Punch Drunk Love) - as she was in her youth, on the cusp of either adventure or misogynistic imprisonment. When housewife Watson brings Fiennes his tea and an echoing clock-hand tuts through a powerful silence, there is no "thank you", no acknowledgement by a husband of his wife's servitude or even existence, and Freddie watches on; a realisation-moment to match the very best in Gervais' and Merchant's emotionally intelligent archive.

Although we can all guess where the film is heading, its unsurprising plot is not its critical flaw. Hit-and-miss, this is both a fun, low-brow comedy and a self-serious social drama that would look better on TV, aka
Life on Mars, than as a motion picture. But if we forget for a moment who the directors are - something this review has failed to do - Cemetery Junction's watered-down American hopefulness and British glumness will make for rolling, as well as teary, eyes.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Provocative, Powerful and Proud: Michael Moore, Controversy and Self-Controversy

Introducing someone to Michael Moore celluloid is a Romantic thing: most people react with either a humbled or repulsed awe, and those who sit on the fence are doing their best not to fall off. In Bowling for Columbine, the Canadian confronted and humiliated screen-legend and NRA-rallier, Charlton Heston, in a surreal interview, as if a conversation was taking place between two different species speaking the same language; in Sicko, Moore led a boat-expedition of ill and untreated American citizens to Guantamano Bay, where imprisoned terrorists were receiving free health care; in Fahrenheit 9/11, he soundtracked footage associating Bush and the Saudi Royal Family with REM's 'Shiny Happy People'; and in his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore attempts to make a citizen's arrest on the CEOs of investment banks. These are just a few memorable highlights in Michael Moore's unique anti-tradition of film making.

Because of the nature of Moore's films, cinematic and political critiques become inextricably linked. Christopher Hitchens, the debate-maestro whose words are always so thoroughly researched, clearly communicated and difficult to wrestle, committed to an ethical damnation of Moore in the conclusion of his 2004 piece on Fahrenheit 9/11:

"If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq. And Iraq itself would still be the personal property of a psychopathic crime family, bargaining covertly with the slave state of North Korea for WMD. You might hope that a retrospective awareness of this kind would induce a little modesty. To the contrary, it is employed to pump air into one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture. Rock the vote, indeed."

Meanwhile a few months ago, of all the likely British broadsheets, it was surprisingly the Daily Telegraph who ranked Fahrenheit 9/11 as the greatest film of the last decade. And there were reviews that eulogised and gushed, in Empire especially:

"For Moore, this is exquisite payback for a moment when he and Bush came face-to-face for the first and only time. "Behave yourself, will you?" sneered Bush. "Go find real work." And so much of this film is Moore's sarcastic reply. Real work? Like being declared President after a rigged election, decided in a state governed by your brother, then spending the first 42 per cent of your initial eight months in office on holiday? It's a testimony to Dubya's idiocy that Moore doesn't have to try too hard to make him look inept [...] Moore's greatest achievement is the handling of 9/11 itself, rendered on a black screen with sound effects, followed by reaction shots of the stunned crowds nearby. He doesn't milk it, leaving you to your own revulsion at the sight of Bush sitting helplessly in a Florida schoolroom for a full seven minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. This is the film's smoking gun; the unforgettable moment [...] Showmanship it may be, and in the wake of the Al Ghraib prison scandal, the anti-war lobby is not so hard to impress, but this is still passionate filmmaking with a strong, idiosyncratic voice [...] Moore's assault on the Bush administration is a terrific polemic. It's sprawling at times, but still uncomfortable, angry viewing in a time when apathy and resignation rule.

Fahrenheit 9/11 shocked and divided worldwide audiences with its truth-elucidating and conspiratorial soliloquising on the ties connecting Bush and Bin Laden, and while the stirring gun-culture documentary, Bowling for Columbine, was worth more than the Oscar it won, Moore's most important films to date are surely Sicko and Slacker Uprising. Through their ruthless exposure of America's elitist health care program and the threat of another four years of self-harm posed by a Republican government, these films played an important role in persuading many undecided or apathetic US citizens to vote Democrat. Glazed in rhetoric and sexed up to the erotic max (his patronising eulogies to the British NHS is misleading, if understandable in the context of 47 million Americans deprived of health care) they are nonetheless inspirational and incontrovertibly Enlightening. Michael Moore's documentaries are excruciatingly partial. But to put it crudely, these ironically Odeon-adopted documentaries are both more informative and more substantial than either arthouse gold or blow-shit-up dogma.

And yet, in response to his banker-bashing, as many have suggested he ought to, wouldn't it be jaw-dropping to see Michael Moore make a film about corruption in the film industry? I would go one further. A film in which Moore replaces (not all, but much of) the expendable, sentimentalistic footage of tears and silences with a thorough examination of, and response to, the arguments of Hitchens and co. Or, if Moore were to elaborate on what
he would do if he was President, as so many t-shirts and posters and Facebook pages around the world have fantasized. It's facing up to such challenges that will elevate Moore above simply the lightweight paeans of student-types like myself, and yolk him in the oeuvre of serious political commentary. More importantly to people who see both hope and reason in his film making, tackling his most intelligent critics this decade is what will secure Moore's place among the great auteurs, and further improve his cause.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal: A Rosy-Fingered Dawn

The vehicles, the helmeted cavalry and heckled infantry of the police had been patrolling the Seven Sisters Road all afternoon. Scarves and singing and Stella-drinking were rife, summer heat had arrived, and it was derby day. Derby night.

The Spurs team-sheet raised thousands of eye-brows inside the stadium but Redknapp's brave decision to start the promising, untested commodity, Danny Rose, as an inverse-winger on the right, paid off. In the tenth minute a haphazard Almunia punched feebly at a Gareth Bale corner, and the ball fell day-dreamingly to Rose on the volley, twenty five yards from goal.
Bosch. Roofed. 1-0. The England Under-21 international is a bright prospect; a winger who can also play at full-back, Rose is fast, powerful, and gifted with a sweet left-foot as well as lambent ball-control. At half-time, having put in his shift, he was sensibly substituted. Although Rose contributed to Spurs's best football in the first half and tracked back and tackled hard, Bentley's experience would prove invaluable in closing out the game. So would Eidur Gudjhonsen's, who, in his first North London derby, looked as if he'd been playing in this fixture for over a decade.

Spurs had barely begun celebrating when Arsenal restarted, and the visitors began to pass the ball with characteristic pace and precision. But for all their ostensibly pretty play in midfield, Arsenal's football was far from penetrating. Indeed their best chances of the game were set-piece derived; Campbell's physical threat in the box was significant, and the sensational Robin Van Persie's overhead effort and close-range free-kick had Tottenham fans biting their bitten nails. The outnumbered Modric and Huddlestone were resiliant, desperate to retain possession, and typically cultured when they had won back the ball. I'm not sure what more Tom Huddlestone can do to book a place at the World Cup. The undertalked pass-master has been better than the inconsistent Michael Carrick this season, is blessed by a greater range of passing, a more powerful right-foot and a bigger presence in the middle of the park. He even made Gareth Barry look ordinary when Spurs beat Man City 3-0 at White Hart Lane in December. Heaven knows the praises pundits would be singing, if Huddlestone was at a 'top-four' club.

After the Barcelona and Portsmouth defeats, this was a match that would be decided by character as well as class, even if Arsenal had an extra four days to prepare, having not played 120 minutes on that cruel Wembley turf. The second goal symbolised the difference in mentality between the two teams. 1-0 up, Spurs wanted to put the game beyond Arsenal's reach from the first whistle after the break. So in the forty-seventh minute, the most improved wide-player in the Premiership this season popped up with his first goal of the campaign. Threaded through delectably by Defoe - a promising omen for Rooney and England - Bale slotted home cooly under pressure, the ball sliding past Almunia's diving left-arm and kissing the inside of the Paxton Road net. In the last few minutes, Bendtner gave the visitors hope after Walcott's dismal performance was atoned briefly by a neat assist for the outstretching Dane, who has an increasingly impressive record against Spurs. But it was more consolation than hope, as Spurs eased to victory in four minutes of uneventful injury time. The second half was not without its scares: the introduction of Van Persie was exactly what the Arsenal doctor ordered (that, and some dodgy lasagne), and his brilliance was bettered only by Tottenham's world-class shot-stopper, diving to his uppermost, rightmost, to claw out two sumptuous RVP strikes.

The "archetype of forsaken loyalty in the modern game", Sol Campbell was justifiably abused for the duration of the match, an abuse politely and healthily tempered to booing. However the former England international riposted with a brilliant performance, and - worryingly for the future of Arsenal FC - was their best player on the night. Dominating in the air or intercepting on the ground, Campbell helped to prevent his (beloved?) club scoring another 1-5 defeat. However it was Michael Dawson and Ledley King who looked the strongest stoppers, aided admirably by sinewy full-backs, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Younes Kaboul. Dawson has to go to the World Cup, especially if Capello is considering taking West Ham's pedestrian Matthew Upson or the inexperienced Shawcross. With Gallas out for Arsenal, and Woodgate out for Spurs, Mikael Silvestre and Sebastien Bassong were waiting in the wings. No doubt Wenger will wish he could have swapped his substitutes for Redknapp's. When Vermaelen was forced off with the score at 1-0, and the fourth official displayed Silvestre's number, Arsenal's nightmare was beginning to take shape. It just isn't a title-winning squad Wenger has built.

Credit must go to Harry Redknapp for tactically outsmarting Arsene Wenger, though no doubt he'll be crediting himself anyway in his forthcoming interviews. The result reflected the quality on the squad sheets. On paper - and now on the pitch - Spurs are simply better than a Fabregas-depleted Arsenal. And their captain Barca-bound, the Gunners should get used to it. "A new dawn" is a dangerous expression, but trophy-less now for five seasons, Arsenal are a club in decline. St Totteringham's Day, unbeaten records and French superstars are celebrative things of the past, and oh-so-quiet throughout the game, this must have been what the Arsenal "
faithful" were pondering. But there are no serious predictions here: this is not an exit for earnest fans detached from the reality of their sport. The title-race hasn't been decided, the race for fourth is still on, and let's hope this fascinating domestic season continues to surprise, twisting and turning like a leg trapped in Wembley soil.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)

* * * *

(Dir. John Requa, Glenn Ficarra, 2010)

Comedy is winning the battle of genres so far in 2010:
Youth in Revolt vellicated even the most pious of indie-sceptics, and Kick Ass is a real gem. And with less to make us guffaw, but with more to make us think, I Love You Phillip Morris is emerging as another success-story.

Jim Carrey is sensibly casted as gay, Texan, cop-turned-lawyer, Steven Russell. Russell became a cop in order to find his mother, who gave him away in his infancy. But after finding her and being rejected by her again, Russell decides to give up his masquerade and live according to his true passions honestly, or so we think. He ends his marriage, moves away, begins a gay relationship and masters a variety of frauds until he is eventually caught. This involves a particularly amusing sequence of stunts in which Jim Carrey is throwing himself onto an escalator and slipping up in a supermarket after oiling the floor. In prison, Russell meets and falls in love with Phillip Morris, an ideal, ignorant partner, played powerfully by Ewan McGregor. Here in prison, where he will return again and again, Russell reads law and passes exams to set up an amusing career-switch upon his release.

Steven Russell is a brilliant plethora of irony and hedonism from first to final frame. Despite his reckless and selfish behaviour, there are signs of a moral and intelligent person. On the golf course, when one of his fellow lawyers transforms his own clean and clever lawyer's joke into something racist, Russell waits behind and murmurs, "****ing moron". He never seems to forget that he is a gay Texan, though the reason his extraordinary spirit is so believable is that it exists independently of any personality trait. Not despite, but through its explicit homosexual content, this film is better summed up as a
black, rather than gay (as it has been referred to), comedy. This is one of the most admirable victories for Carrey and McGregor's acting and for Ficarra and Requa's directing; that homosexuality is communicated neither as an unconscious threat nor desire, but as a conscious by-product of a shop selling deliciously smart satire. And at the check-out, subtitles filter across the screen to tell us that this sensationalist story really did take place, in Texas, right under George Bush's nose.

Unfortunately, "I love you, Phillip Morris" is a title-line unnecessarily forced into an otherwise absorbable screenplay. When Russell is transferred to another prison, and he and Morris are separated for the first time, Russell screams from his departing bus to a chasing Morris, "I love you", and then gawkishly again, "I love you, Phillip Morris". Another way of looking at it is this: there's a reason Lean didn't title his 1965 classic, "I love you, Dr Zhivago". Or, to be genre-specific,
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was never going to be "I love you, Veronica Corningstone". It's plain old, irritating kitsch. At a glance, this review might come across as fastidious, especially since the film is based on a book whose enormous title contains the words, "I love you Phillip Morris". However the film's title is significant in its cutesy tarnishing of a cool comedy so blessed by its based-on-a-true-story brilliance. And yet it can not be easy to market so precocious a project.

I Love You Phillip Morris is a deep and wonderful sleep from which we are vigorously awoken, over and over. There are merry and sober phases whose contrasts are predictably stark and irksomely repetitive, until a final, magnificent twist I will not spoil. But licensed to act with unrestrained passion, Carrey can perform at his flexible best, nodding to his charismatic lead in The Mask, his court-room clownishness in Liar Liar, the suffering in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and more recently, to the carpe diem in Yes Man. After each twist and turn has expired, Russell edifies his ridiculous relationship with Morris (as well as our relationship with the film) thus: beneath all this furious lusting and laughing and lying, there is a meaningfulness and a love to be cherished. And he's right.

Monday, 12 April 2010


I am happiest when I am fattest.
Ambition is a sickly aftertaste of gym and shower gel:

Falling from a lofty landmark,
I have photographs of myself, small and naked,
Stapled to my sometimes muscled form.
Cells skim-read, turning to their final page,
And this book has many pages missing,
So our understanding is modest.

The baseball-bat-thwack of Mother Earth
Into a skull,
A legacy like a cough or sneeze,
Is possible.

So is a life of one hundred thousand days
Of box-ticking and effort-love,
And back cover blurbs (or poems) that say nothing,
That must never be proud,
Whose writers ought never to call themselves
Whose work ought not to be called
And I want more than butterflies.

Friday, 9 April 2010

3D Clash of the Titans (2010)

* *

(Dir. Louis Leterrier, 2010)

This brand new, visual epic fated to culminate Titan aetiology will have academics licking their lips the world over. Journals will be published thick and fast: this is an original and immortal work. Forget what Hesiod wrote (or spoke?) about the hero Perseus, that might have inspired centuries, even millennia, of art. In Clash of the Titans, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson deliver their most hotly anticipated and spellbinding performances ever on screen together, as Hades and Zeus, and because they're not wearing those silly Greek theatre masks, and because they are flying at us in 3D, this makes them more believable as figureheads of an Olympian pantheon.

Nah, I'm just kiddin'.

Transporter 2 and The Incredible Hulk, Leterrier is still yet to direct anything worth re-visiting. Clash of the Titans is earnest bilge, exhausting on both eye and ear. And, accidentally, quite funny. No person nor freak, not even the impressive CGI-landscape (Olympus is a cool silvery palace reminiscent of Krypton) seems to believe in its existence, and yet this is a genuine attempt to make the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up by way of heroes, gods and monsters. The aforementioned Fiennes and Neeson are unsurprisingly assured, but their formal dialogue clashes mawkishly with the tone of the film. For instance, when Perseus is about to enter Medusa's realm, he instructs his companions: "Don't look the bitch in the eye!" Or when Zeus visits Perseus and tosses him some pocket-money. Clumsily assimilated into this American dialect (spearheaded by Avatar-lead, Sam Worthington, as Perseus) is that watered-down ancient code of honour, observed by big boys with swords and shields, a la "Shadows and dust, Maximus... Shadows and dust... Strength and honour".

The plot is a discombobulating melting pot of mythological narratives and characters. Hence the story of Perseus, the film's hero, has nothing to do with the clashing of Titans, the film's narrative, in traditional fable. Anyway, this, roughly, is Leterrier's plot; in an assembly on Olympus, the home of the gods, Hades and Zeus agree to punish mankind for its growing hybris, by unleashing the Kraken (a comical Norweigan sea-monster supposed to terrify us) to destroy Argos if its King does not sacrifice his daughter, Andromeda, within a fortnight. However Hades is really trying to trick Zeus and kill his son, Perseus, in order to reassert his place on Olympus, far from the Underworld. Meanwhile Perseus, who has now discovered he is a demi-god (thanks to a never-ageing beautiful woman who stalks him), aided by warriors of Argos and a hooded mystery-man known as a gin (as in Gordons), is told he can kill the Kraken by showing him Medusa's head and so turning him to stone. But first he has to find Medusa, avoid her stare and decapitate "the bitch". For blockheads seeking a philosophical seminar, the ruthless gods are helpful: Man is autonomous, but evil is strongest when Man is weakest.

This is a typically disastrous effort by Hollywood at re-imagining the classical, or the mythology of the classical, world. However the principal effort is of course bums-on-seats and dollars, with the noisy and bold trailer working its siren-song to lure in reluctant families on a day of April showers. This ballsy remake is one of the least affecting movies to flirt with Armageddon in recent years, but if you want a few laughs (unintended by the director) or if you're partial to short-running, quasi-archaic sci-fi shows on Sky One, it's a do-able 106 minutes. Do not go if you are an intellectually insecure classicist ready to criticise every frame for being incongruous with the Oxford Classical Dictionary. It isn't the innovative mythology that is wrong, it's everything else. Since the 7th Century BC, artists have been depicting the decapitation of Medusa - whose iconographic hair of hissing snakes still turns dreams into nightmares in the 21st century. She is the one scary monster and the single benefit of 3D in this spectacular unforced error of a film. Clash of the Titans is almost, but not quite, a guilty pleasure.

The Clash Begins
: 3.26.2010. If it hasn't yet begun for you, don't let it.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Barcelona 6, Arsenal 3: the difference between suprise and astonishment

Firstly, Messi.

Dancing or negotiating his way between limbs - his enemies' and his own - like the words of a beat poem in the arms of popular culture. Or, carrying the ball like a boy bursting towards a try-line desperate to impress his dad, only with his toes. And always, the Argentinian is executing ruthlessly, a man revered as well as loved. And visibly small but muscled, and young but somehow so clever in each and every phase. Lionel Messi is the winged winger, a thing of beauty and a joy forever (so long as all his top ten goals compilations on youtube are being archived somewhere else).

It's not that I can not believe in the existence of a footballer dipped in the Styx: Zidane, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and both Ronaldos did things to me I'm ashamed to talk about. But in Messi, the twenty first century has conceived its own, arguably corrected, Maradonna. The comparisons will continue to be made. But already - Messi only twenty-two years old - it is no more insightful to label Messi, the new Maradonna, as it is Maradonna, the old Messi. This evening I was astonished by his balance, his dynamism, his pace and his power, in or outside of the box, that sent shivers down even the most brittle of spines. Lionel Messi has now scored 119 goals in 204 professional games. And he's not even a striker.

As we took to our sofas and seats and floors around the world, and Ils sont les meilleurs / Sie sind die besten / These are the champions / Die Meister / Die Besten /Les grandes équipes / The champions! boomed around Nou Camp, and the camera moved over the pageant of players and officials, one couldn't help but wish that Arshavin, Ibrahimovic, Gallas, Puyol, Fabregas, Iniesta, Van Persie and, especially, Henry were fit and, or, starting. Even if there was more than a chance of a vintage Messi display silencing the (just about audible) visiting support, a star-studded cast could have produced an even more stunning showpiece. For any unblinkered fan of the sport, the eulogic press response to Fabregas's first-leg performance seemed ludicrous. Prior to his penalty and injury, the Arsenal captain was lacklustre, doing nothing to affect a game which was poised perfectly for even the 50% fit-playmaker to outclass two of his World Cup squad-rivals, Xavi and Busquets. He will now miss that tournament and - amazingly - Spain won't miss him, blessed amply by Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Senna and much, much more.

It's rare that Andy Gray doesn't seem out of his depth when analysing football. If he hadn't forged a career in media, Gray would doubtless have been sitting in the pub with the rest of us this evening, or rather, an irritating extra, chirping nonsense from the raging lights of some fruit machine. I'm imagining something antithetical to the Carling, You know who your mates are, pitch. But when, in the first half, he accused Barcelona of being a one-man team, La Liga followers everywhere will have winced at Gray's understanding of the best football team in the world: Ibrahimovic, Pedro and Henry are variably brilliant, Bojan is a comely talent while Iniesta and Xavi are two of the best midfield players in world football. In Maxwell and Daniel Alves, they also possess possibly the two most enjoyable attacking full backs to watch in Europe.

This brings me to a challenging thought for the neutrals: how are we supposed to feel when one of the top-four-elite in Britain are drawn against the beautiful Barcelona or the galacticos of Real Madrid or better still, one of the tournament's quiet threats - Bordeaux or Lyon? Naturally as a Spurs supporter, I am inclined to enjoy the demise of Arsenal or Chelsea so I will probably never embrace the patriotism in club football. Nonetheless I don't see the point. I might have a soft spot for the odd club, but my bag is Spurs and England thank you very much. An Englishman's sense of patriotism has no place in the modern domestic game, but it has a time and a place at the international tournaments where its Premiership heroes break our hearts. Just remember Portugal, or look to this summer's contenders.

Indeed the Premiership has no consciousness of our grass-roots other than charity chores and the few well-protected memories of its more grateful ambassadors. This was illustrated by a typically half-baked comment a fortnight ago coming from (who else but) Arsene Wenger. After his team threw away the points at Birmingham, Wenger blamed the pitch for not being 'normal'. St Andrews is no DW Stadium, besides I'm sure most Sunday League footballers would cherish passing a ball on grass cut like that.

Now I have nothing against a person who supports Arsenal. I'd rather have a drink with a passionate (there are some) Arsenal fan than a Spurs fan who doesn't know when we did the double. But for the neutral, how can choosing to support Arsenal be a British thing to do? These aren't the days of George Graham managing Adams, Winterburn, Dixon, Platt, Merson etc. The stadium - apart from having pushed the fans further away from the pitch - is called Emirates, the manager is French, the captain and best player is Spanish, the next best players are Dutch, Russian or French. In fact only two of Arsenal's current first team squad are English, Sol Campbell (the archetype of forsaken loyalty in the modern game) and Theo Walcott (an admirable but frustrating talent).

Back to the game.

In the end, nobody could argue with the result. Arsenal were very unlucky to draw Barcelona in the Quarter Finals but somebody had to. Wenger's side hardly seemed to peform below or above par in either leg. The strike-rate depended on what gear Barca were in, and their varying degrees of clinical finishing: in reality the match should have been over by half-time at Emirates. Arsenal's better peformers included Diabe and Nasri, while Almunia, surprisingly, was their best player over the two legs, preventing a rugby score, and looked more convincing than his off-form Spanish counterpart, Victor Valdes. Clichy showed once again how fast he is, but not a lot else; his idiosyncratic dumb positioning played Barcelona onside for a goal, and made things easier for the opposition down his flank throughout the tie. Although Song was missed tonight, he is still a season or two away from becoming as consistent a defensive midfield brute as the likes of Essien, Fletcher and Palacios.

Unfortunately for Arsenal supporters, the only thing this year's tie has in common with that final of 2005 is a celebrating Barcelona, and possibly the best player in the Arsenal team leaving the losers for the winners in the next available transfer window. Fabregas, who after (what is likely to be) another trophy-less season, is expected to move this summer, with Barcelona desperate for his signature. Perhaps Chelsea would have fared better in the first leg of this tie, but not even with a Michael Essien-augmented midfield could Chelsea have observed a clean sheet in that wave-after-wave of fountaining Romanticism at Emirates. And then in the second leg, Messi scored four goals. In a Champions League Quarter Final. Messi scored four goals. Champions League Quarter Final. Against Arsenal. Four goals. At half-time I received a text from a friend which read: "Well, I guess he hadn't scored a hat-trick for a fortnight".

Forgive or play along with my hyperbole, but Lionel Messi is the Son of (my) God and I am one of a billion disciples writing in his name.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Meditations on Dimitar Berbatov: in wake of Rooney's injury

The stats are what matters. And no - on behalf of Spurs fans accused of being fickle or bitter as followers of a feeder club (though perhaps Real Madrid and Barcelona are the only two purely fed clubs in the world), Berbatov was an incomparably frustrating player to watch at White Hart Lane. And after almost five years in the Premiership, the Bulgarian is still yet to perform consistently in consecutive seasons. Berbatov has scored 12 times in 27 Premiership appearances this season, many of which have been icing-on-the-cake goals: Manchester United are only one point better off with Berbatov's goals, a staggering and meaningful statistic.

Where an exquisite first touch is lovely on the eye, defending from the front (inconceivable for Berbatov) and prolific goalscoring (throughout his career, Berbatov has been prone to wasting good chances, especially in the air) are of greater importance, and this is true no matter what club, league or competition we're talking about. Berbatov was poetically and busily terrific in his second season at Tottenham Hotspur, but for much of his first and third seasons, he was an ineffective and disinterested burden on the football club. He would isolate himself in the warm-ups; if he was played, he would curse at his teammates (especially the youngsters) for passes that asked half a metre's movement; and when left on the bench, he would refuse to warm up. Many matches, Berbatov would barely move - on or off the ball - only to collect the biggest wage packet at the club. This is such a shame since he is capable of a brilliant change of pace that, even now he is playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, we rarely see. Robbie Keane (and the Tottenham coaching staff) bears a great deal of responsibility for making Dimitar Berbatov look such a wonderful forward, and visa versa. Neither have been the same player since their high-profile moves, two summers ago - or perhaps they have, but like lovers regretting a swift divorce, they haven't been able to cope apart.

To compare Berbatov to Cantona is funny really: Cantona was more than just a luxury forward, and he scored many more great goals than his 'successor'. Furthermore, taking centre-stage at The Theatre of Dreams (what a terrible nickname for a stadium), Cantona was so much more impassioned and charismatic a sports personality - quite the opposite to Berbatov. As for Berbatov's great goals; a wonderful run and finish against Charlton, and a thunderbolt from a tight angle at the Emirates, are all that come to mind, but maybe there's one or two I've forgotten. His beautifully crafted assists in the Premiership have been more memorable, but these are no more valuable than Bobby Zamora or Kevin Davies's weekly flick-ons in the box, and gawping fanboys of neat-touch-football are quick to forget this. Until the emergence of Tom Huddlestone, Michael Carrick was the United player Spurs have missed the most.
Taking into account all the different attributes that make a good Premiership striker, I've compiled a list of Premiership front men (besides Torres, Drogba, Rooney and Van Persie) just as effective as Berbatov, who would offer just as much substance in United colours (which is red, not green and gold; boycott and follow FC United if it means so much).
Nicolas Anelka, Eduardo, Louis Saha, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe, John Carew, Gabby Agbonlahor, Darren Bent, Kenwyn Jones, Roque Santa Cruz, Bobby Zamora, Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez, Hugo Rodallega, Kevin Davies and Craig Bellamy. That makes Berbatov a better-than-average Premiership striker, somewhere in the top twenty. This might be difficult to take for subscribers to the cliched panegyrics of Andy Gray, Jim Beglin, Alan Green and co, but take a deep breath. Now put Berbatov in that list, or give any one of those players Berbatov's no.9 shirt and a season beside Wayne Rooney, and look at that list again, and you'll see what I see: a good Premiership striker, nothing more, nothing less.

£30 million? Cheers Fergie. Now that Spurs possess several players who could hold down a place in a top four team (Gomes, Bale, Palacios, Huddlestone, Modric, Lennon, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe), I hope Ferguson will turn a blind eye this summer, doubting Spurs as a reliable feeder club, having not yet seen his money's worth from the £50 million he spent on Carrick and Berbatov.

It will be interesting to see how the dreamy sloth fares in the run-in - no doubt a pivotal month in his career. But for the moment, Dimitar Berbatov remains an example of why bandwagons are contagious and costly things, even for as magnificent a manager as Sir Alex Ferguson.